Strange old day…

I always knew that valuing the contents of Mum and Dad’s house was going to be a tough day. I was prepared to be told there wasn’t much of value there, but when the valuer shook his greying head at the end of his visit and said, ‘I’d kind of hoped I’d find a hidden gem or two, but it’s just old stuff,’ I felt a surge of grief for all the generations who’ve gone before me.

So many pieces of furniture, acquired by my great grandmother and grandmother, which I’ve polished to a gloss. So many tea cups and saucers I’ve washed by hand to ensure the gold rim didn’t fall foul of the dishwasher. So many ornaments I’ve dusted and returned to their exact position, not noticing the chips and cracks that gave them character, but rendered them valueless.

It feels disloyal to dismiss them as ‘old stuff’, but the reality is that antiques have fallen out of favour. In our disposable world flat pack furniture holds more appeal than something lovingly crafted out of rare or exotic timbre. Mass produced glassware and china have changed the way we view crockery. Quirky ornaments are no longer in vogue.

I felt old myself today, seeing the modest family home through a stranger’s eyes. It’s all about perception…


28 thoughts on “Strange old day…

  1. Hello Helene.
    Everything in your mothers house has a story and so many memories for you, that is priceless. Sad that some think value is about money, not feelings and memories.
    Happy travels Helene.

  2. Thanks for your very wise words, Kelly. It is the memories that make each piece special. I’m trying to work out if I can sneak a couple of those cups aboard Roobinesque 🙂

  3. Thanks, Kerri, Robyn, Catherine, and Cassandra I too wish I had an old Queenslander that could house them all… But I’m sure we’ll find good homes for some it. Thanks for your kind comments.

  4. I don’t think a financial valuation truly represents what something is worth (think of a favourite, furless, one eyed teddy bear of childhood). If you love the “stuff”, then it is truly valuable. If not, send it to the op shop where someone else will discover it and love it. (You could always write a little note – since you are a writer! – and put it inside the vases / drawers / etc explaining the history behind it so the history is not lost and the new owners appreciate their new acquisition even more. Good luck with the removal/sorting process – it’s not easy – go gently on yourself and your feelings/memories. Big hugs, Kate

  5. The day we packed up Mum’s unit and sold her life for $700 at a garage sale was heartbreaking. Of course , we kept all of those polished and chipped cups and lace doilies. It is the memories that you cannot put a value on. ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ Feeling your grief. xx

  6. I can really sympathise with you Helene. Last year we had the awful job of clearing out 50 years of life from the family home. Every little nick-nack was precious to us, but of very little value to others.

    Keep your chin up. It’s hard work, but once it’s over you’ll have your own treasures to enjoy and remember.

  7. oh Helene.. I do feel your sadness. But do steel yourself with the knowledge that you and the generations who have gone before you are not and were not worthless. Treasure, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder and anyone fortunate enough to have enjoyed the spoils of the immense hospitality that was offered in your parents home will attest to the real value of the contents therein.

  8. We’ve never met Helene but we have a mutual friend in Allison McDonald and I am a loyal reader of your books…
    I was touched by your sunken heart in this story having gone through a similar process some years ago. I wanted to tell you not to let this stranger alter your sentimental value of these items that represent so much more to you that they ever could to anyone else. Monetary value has no worth on sentiment and memories whether an item sports a fifty cent tag or is fought for in the millions at auction. Choose not to see these trinkets of familiarity and heritage through someone else’s eyes because it has a deflating effect on your spirit and sorely degrades the pride and care that your ancestors took in preserving these collections just for you. That’s where the value lies. It doesn’t matter what they would be worth on the market. It holds no relevance at all…. but perhaps you might now allow some of those teacups to go into the dishwasher….!
    Kelly Modulon

  9. Well Helene, I love this type of furniture & the beautiful knick knacks – all my favourites. I am sure each piece has many stories to tell – oh to hear some of them! It all feels so warm and loving & what a wonderful way to sit and enjoy a moment!!! Rob x

  10. Thanks, Annie, I love the stories behind pieces of furniture. I like being able to imagine the people who’ve loved them before me. Those sideboards and bedheads would have some fascinating stories to tell themselves!

  11. Lee, that must have been so hard. As you say they were such a frugal generation – I smile wryly when people talk about how passionate they are about the environment whilst driving their new car, living in their new house and buying yet another wide screen TV. Our parents generation threw nothing away, recycled clothes until they became rags and made do with so little. The disposable era makes me weep…

  12. Helene,

    He had it wrong. There’s so much of value there, and if the buying public don’t realise it, they’re poorer for that. Give me something beautiful and loved with the patina of age and care any day.

    Thinking of you!

  13. I did this five years ago when my Mum went into aged care. I have a china cabinet, lamp table and various ornaments Of my grandmother’s and my mother’s dressing table is in my daughter’s bedroom. These things have sentimental value and hold memories. But the things we gave away! I felt so bad seeing them go. Many of our parents’ generation grew up with so little, coming through the 1st world war, depression and 2nd world war. They were frugal and they treasured these things. It’s like throwing out the things that were important to the people we love. I found it heart wrenching. Now we live in a more wasteful time!

  14. Annie, your house sounds wonderful and must bring a great deal of comfort to you with all those memories.

    We had a huge clean up around the yard when Dad went and that involved skip after skip… I remember tears dripping off my chin as I threw a lifetime of accumulation away. We also carted all the scrap metal off to be recycled – I figured Dad would be happy to know that the cost of his funeral was covered by the funds that metal raised!

    I do hope one day what is old becomes new again.

  15. I know exactly what you mean, Helena. I sometimes look round my house and think if we died tomorrow there would probably be a line of rubbish skips on our driveway ready to receive the battered kitchen table that was my brothers before he died and means a lot to me or the cane furniture that came from my husband’s parent’s house, a Noel Coward sort of effect that used to look over a bay in Takapuna. Our whole house has a tired patina now, I am afraid, the scratchings and gnawings of guide dogs we’ve brought through their puppy training, the sanded surfaces of wood with the holes of borer bugs exposed for all to notice, the sagging sofas with their bright colours fading. Yet in everything around me I also see memories, the china from the 1930’s earthquake ravaged Napier, the silver bequeathed to me by my great grandmother and cleaned every year at christmas time. Flatpacks will have their stories too, I suppose, and one day our children’s children will line up the skips and look instead for the old antiques that fell from favour a long while ago but which now are enjoying a second coming.

  16. Thanks, Pamela, I’m sure it’s partly why I write these sort of pieces in my stories.

    I’m always saddened when I make a trip to a dump and see so much being turned into landfill…

  17. So true Helene. And very sad. We have quite a few pieces of furniture in our house that would be classified as antique, some bought, a few inherited, but as you say people don’t value them anymore. The trend is for shiny new minimalist furniture which, to me, is totally lacking in character. Who knows, maybe the pendulum will swing again but it’s such a shame that such beautiful, cherished pieces are no longer sought after.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.